Topolánek’s toppling leads to early Czech election

Again, this isn’t me, but Manuel Alvarez-Rivera, of Election Resources On The Internet speaking:

The Czech Republic will be holding an early general election later this year – nearly a year ahead of schedule – after the center-right coalition government of Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek was brought down last week in a parliamentary no-confidence vote. Topolánek, who submitted his resignation last Thursday but remains as caretaker head of government and leader of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) – the largest party in the Central European country’s bicameral legislature – subsequently reached an agreement with former Prime Minister Jiří Paroubek, the leader of the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) – the main opposition force – to hold an early poll next October; a specific date remains to be determined.

Prime Minister Topolánek came to office following a closely fought general election in June 2006, which left the Chamber of Deputies – the lower house of the Czech Parliament – evenly split between left- and right-wing parties. However, in early 2007 Topolánek was able to secure a parliamentary majority with the help of two rebel ČSSD deputies, and he went on to survive four no-confidence motions during the course of 2007 and 2008. Nonetheless, his government depended upon a fragile majority, which was finally shattered when four dissident deputies – two from ODS, plus two recently expelled from the Green Party (SZ) – sided with ČSSD and the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) to pass by 101-96 a vote of no-confidence.

Coincidentally, the fall of the Czech government came on the same day that Topolánek – who currently holds the European Union’s rotating presidency – made headlines around the world when he criticized the economic stimulus program of U.S. President Barack Obama as “the road to hell.” While the vote of confidence was triggered by allegations of abuse of state subsidies by a deputy who left ČSSD to support ODS, some opposition deputies voted to bring down Topolánek as a protest against his government’s economic policies, which according to them failed to deal effectively with the global financial crisis; although the Czech economy is not in as dire straits as those of other nearby countries (such as Hungary), the Czech Republic is nonetheless forecast to suffer a recession this year.

Opinion polls have ČSSD ahead of ODS; that said, the gap between the two parties appears to be narrowing down. Nonetheless, the Social Democrats are hoping for a repeat of their performance in last October’s regional and Senate elections, in which ČSSD captured 23 of 27 Senate mandates up for renewal, depriving ODS of its absolute majority in the upper house of Parliament. Although it has some ex-Communist members, ČSSD is not a post-Communist party; unlike major left-of-center parties in other Eastern European countries, it traces its roots to the Social Democratic Party that was forcibly merged with the Communists in 1948. However, the Czech Social Democrats have to compete on the left with the Communists, who still command a significant following.

The Czech Chamber of Deputies is elected by party-list proportional representation in regional constituencies – Parliamentary Elections in the Czech Republic has a review of the Czech electoral system – and no single party has ever commanded an absolute lower house majority. Moreover, the ongoing presence of a sizable, unreformed Communist Party has greatly complicated the task of forming stable governments in the Czech Republic. While the Social Democrats have called upon Communist support from time to time (as they did for last week’s no-confidence vote), neither them nor the parties to their right regard the Communists as suitable coalition partners, largely for historical reasons: save for the short-lived “Prague Spring” of 1968, the Communist Party governed Czechoslovakia – the now-defunct federation of the Czech Republic and Slovakia – in a totalitarian fashion from 1948 to 1989, when the Velvet Revolution put an end to the Communist regime.

As a result, since 1996 the Czech Republic has been ruled either by shaky coalition cabinets, such as those formed from 2002 to 2006 by ČSSD and the four party coalition headed by the Christian and Democratic Union-Czechoslovak People’s Party (KDU-ČSL), and from 2007 to the present by ODS, KDU-ČSL and SZ; or by minority governments dependent upon the good will of the opposition, as was the case from 1998 to 2002, when ODS reached an “opposition agreement” with ČSSD under which the Civic Democrats tolerated Milos Zeman’s minority Social Democratic government without supporting it.

In fact, Topolánek may have to reach out to the Social Democrats in order to secure Senate passage of the Lisbon Treaty, which would streamline the functioning of the European Union. While Topolánek is in favor of the treaty, many Euroskeptics in ODS remain opposed to it, as is President Vaclav Klaus, the former leader of the Civic Democrats.

At this juncture, it remains unclear what will happen to Prime Minister Topolánek’s outgoing government until the election is held. ČSSD leader Paroubek declared that he is willing to tolerate the government until the end of June (when Sweden takes over the EU presidency) if certain conditions are met, but favors the appointment of an interim government of non-party experts after that date. Meanwhile, Topolánek insists on remaining in office, but he and President Klaus – who has the right to appoint the next government – are political enemies, and not surprisingly Klaus is proposing the formation of a new cabinet without further delay. However, Czech governments require majority support in the Chamber of Deputies in order to remain in office, and in light of last week’s events it appears rather unlikely that such support would be forthcoming.

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Political issues by Edward Hugh. Bookmark the permalink.

About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

One thought on “Topolánek’s toppling leads to early Czech election

  1. Hey, I just found out about your webzine and I have to say..good job!! this is the second article I have read here and Im pleased…especially about this article. I am from the Czech republic and I follow the political scene closer. I have read a lot of articles on foreign blogs that never came even close to describing the situation in the czech republic. It is hard to not put the fall of our government together with the financial crises. It Hungary it was very much so, but here, the oppositte is true. Czech republic, due to financial crises in 97/98, is very aware of what bad loans can do to a banking market and our banks have been very cautious with loaning money. That is why we did not have to put any money toward our banking system so far. The economical crisis hit us, no doubt. But it is not the reason of falling of our government. I am honestly more scared about what will CSSD (left wing) do to our budget than I was with ODS (right wing). Some of the proposed measures are pure Keyness. the problem is it is always “half-Keyness” with CSSD. they use fiscal policy in economical downturns, but also in economical booms. thanks to them has our national budget grown in recent years (they won the elections and govern Czech Rep. 2002-2006).

Comments are closed.